Friday, 28 July 2017

Jamaicans Across Canada Get Set to Celebrate 55th Anniversary of Independence

By Neil Armstrong

Justice Donald McLeod of the Ontario Court of Justice.    Photo contributed

Jamaicans in eight cities across Canada will be celebrating the island’s 55th anniversary of independence with a variety of events from the end of July to October coordinated by the Jamaica 55 Committee.

In Toronto, there will be a Jamaica 55 gala held at the Jamaican Canadian Association on Aug. 5 with Justice Donald McLeod of the Ontario Court of Justice as the keynote speaker; a flag raising ceremony at City Hall on Aug. 6, a church service at Revivaltime Tabernacle on Aug. 6, and a bus trip to Ottawa on Aug. 7 to attend an event organized by the Jamaican High Commission to mark the 55th anniversary and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Janice Miller, high commissioner, will host a reception that evening.

On Canada’s Thanksgiving long weekend in October there will be an event organized by A-Supreme Foundation involving Juliet Holness, Member of Parliament for St. Andrew East Rural and wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who will be the keynote speaker.

The charitable foundation, which is concerned with the heath care of seniors, will hold its event on Oct. 7 at the International Plaza hotel.

Andrea Davis, Chair of Humanities, York University.  Photo contributed

Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora, York University. Photo credit: Francine Buchner

On Oct. 6, 5:30-9:00 p.m., Holness will be a participant in a panel discussion coordinated by Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora at York University.

It will be hosted by the Jean Augustine Chair, in partnership with Humanities. McMaster University is likely to be another partner and will have materials from the Louise Bennett archive for display.   

 A reception from 5:30-6:30 p.m. will be followed followed by the panel presentation with questions and answers.
The other panellists will be Avis Glaze, education consultant and former CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, and Daniel Coleman, professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. Professor Andrea Davis, Chair of Humanities, York University, will moderate the panel. 

The panellists will present on the social, cultural, economic, educational and literary issues of Jamaica and its diaspora
 “We plan to reach out to the community, generally, and to students in the colleges and universities in the Toronto area,” says James.

“Ottawa meets the World – Jamaica” will be held in Ottawa on Aug. 7 and is billed as “a fun- filled family event, free of cost to the public, showcasing the sights, sounds and flavours of Jamaica.”

“Experience the vibrant and rich cultural heritage of Jamaica throughout the course of the day, by rocking to a wide repertoire of musical presentations and savouring the aroma and the exotic cuisine for which Jamaican is renowned. Explore the intricacies of the country through a varied display of quality Jamaican products, experience the warm Jamaican hospitality and enjoy a first hand encounter with our culture,” notes the promo. A church service will be held on Aug. 6.

An Independence church service will be held in Calgary, Alberta on July 30 at Berean Church of God International with senior pastor, Bishop Joseph Hackett, officiating. A flag raising ceremony will be held at City Hall on Aug. 5 and later that day a civic ceremony will be held at Winston Heights Community Centre.

In Montreal, a gala dinner will be held on Aug. 5 with Hume Johnson as the keynote speaker, and on Aug. 6 a church service. In October, a Heroes Day event will be held in that city with Dr. Julius Garvey as the guest speaker.

A “Celebration of Cultures” will be held in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Aug. 7, meanwhile on Aug. 19, a banquet will be held in Edmonton, Alberta.

In Saskatchewan, Pamela Appelt, Chair of the Jamaica 55 Committee, will be the keynote speaker on Aug. 26 at the Jamaica 55 gala.

Storyteller, Letna Allen-Rowe, will be there for the entire weekend sharing stories about Miss Lou in her repertoire.

“That is going to be a fantastic weekend celebration of Jamaica 55,” Appelt says, noting that in the province they organize independence events every two or five years.

Jamaicans in that province will hold a flag raising ceremony on Aug. 11.

On Sept. 21, a business and academic symposium will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I’m honestly happy to say that we’re following through on what we did for Jamaica 50. We raised the bar there in terms of events we host in our community and we’re continuing along that line and I’m happy that so many people are interested in keeping the Jamaican spirit high,” says Appelt who holds a Master’s degree in public policy, and received an honorary doctorate from Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica in 2002.

In 1987, she was appointed the first female Black Canadian to serve as a judge of the Court of Canadian Citizenship, a position she held for 11 years before retiring to pursue other interests.

[This story has been published in the Jamaica Independence Feature in the NA Weekly Gleaner, July 27, 2017.]

Refugees Support Group Hopeful after Meeting with Head of New Legacy Task Force

- Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship says there is 'light at the end of the tunnel' for legacy cases

By Neil Armstrong

Sebastian Commock, member of the executive committee of the Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy Alliance.  Photo contributed

The Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy Alliance (CLRAA), a support group for LGBTQ refugees who have legacy claims – many of whom are from the Caribbean and Africa – is very optimistic after meeting the head of newly formed legacy task force.

Sebastian Commock, an executive member of the group, met with Gaétan Cousineau, head of the legacy task force set up by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) on July 19.

As of this week, 450 refugee claimants will receive notices of their hearing dates and times, which start on September 18.

Commock said Cousineau clarified that there are about 3,500 principal legacy cases, not 5,600. Some individuals have children, partners, who are considered a part of the legacy claims which accounts for the 5,600 in total being affected.

“They say they are trying different mediums to get in ouch with clients, and I’m feeling very confident in this individual,” says Commock.

The CLRAA, which was formed in March, had written to Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, seeking information about the legacy task force and outlining the situation of legacy claimants.

They were redirected to the IRB and after writing a letter to its Chair, Mario Dion, received an invitation to a meeting with Cousineau.

In the letter, CLRAA indicated that a considerable number of legacy claimants have been waiting in excess of five years for a hearing and how their lives were impacted in four areas: health and wellbeing, employment, family relationships, and education.

Cousineau is the former deputy chairperson of the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) and was the president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse).

“We went in asking for amnesty and he said that’s not something that he would be able to argue on. While a lot of our cases would probably qualify for that he’s not able to make a determination on that,” says Commock.

He asked about the possibility of not having hearings for some of the claimants based on the evidence and documentation they submitted but Cousineau noted that some of the cases are considered difficult and it was highly unlikely there could be any determination without a hearing.

Several members of CLRAA were concerned about documentation that they submitted several years ago and wondered if they had to update them.

The answer was no, but if they think that new documents will help their case they can go ahead but it’s not a requirement.

“We also asked about the fact that a hearing is something to determine if you stay or if you go back home, and in an event that one fails their claim, how is that handled. He did say that they would put extra effort in ensuring gets the perfect or fair opportunity to prove their case, so if it takes five hours for you to prove your case we will give you the time.”

The head of the legacy task force asked that legacy claimants get in touch with the IRB to indicate their intention to proceed, with Legal Aid which may still be able to fund their case, and with their counsel.

In April, the IRB announced the formation of the legacy task force which would provide dedicated support to the elimination of its backlog of legacy claims.

The task force has a two-year mandate to complete its work. It began its work on May 8, 2017 and will be funded with existing resources. 

The creation of a dedicated team will enable the IRB to significantly increase the rate at which it can process legacy claims while allowing the RPD to continue to focus on new claims and current inventory, says the IRB’s website. 

The new system caseload is subject to regulated time limits.

Refugee claims referred to the IRB before December 15, 2012– are what the IRB calls "legacy claims.” 

It says although most of these claims were heard before the new refugee determination system took effect on December 15, 2012, there are some claims that have not yet been heard.

Last year, several Caribbean and African LGBTQ refugee claimants who have been in Canada since 2011 and 2012 shared their frustration at the long wait time to resolve their situation with the Weekly Gleaner. Many felt that their lives were in limbo.

El-Farouk Khaki, a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer, representing many Caribbean clients who have legacy cases – most of whom are Jamaicans – said almost all of the cases are either sexual orientation or gender-based, so LGBT people or women fleeing some kind of domestic violence situation.

“Out of Jamaica, it’s mostly sexual orientation. Out of my Jamaican cases, I would say 98-95% are sexual orientation and only 5 or 10% are domestic violence-related,” Khaki said.

While answering a question at an event organized by Operation Black Vote Canada and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals on July 27 at KPMG in Toronto, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship said changes to the refugee system made by former minister, Jason Kenney, in 2012 have really disadvantaged some refugee claimants.

He noted that until today a lot of them haven’t had hearings or due process.

“Through no fault of their own these people’s lives are in limbo and they’re called legacy refugees.

"There used to be about 20,000. We’ve reduced them to about 5-6,000 people. And I have been very, very, involved in this issue,” said Hussen, noting that he meets the Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, Mario Dion, almost on a monthly basis.

“Finally we were able to do two things that I think will be able to clear this issue once and for all. We found money to be able to clear those cases cause 5,600 people who have individual cases on top of the piling numbers we have from this year’s asylum claims.”

Hussen said they have also found a team – the legacy task force – that will nothing but focus on the legacy cases.

“So they’re going to process legacy cases and they have the money to do that, and my understanding from Mario Dion is that all the 5,600 cases will be cleared in less than two years so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Some Events Happening in Canada, Jamaica and Barbados

By Neil Armstrong

The official launch of the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival on July 11 at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. Photo credit: Gwyn Chapman

 Toronto Caribbean Carnival, July 7 to Aug. 6
The Toronto Caribbean Carnival is the official Caribbean festival overseen by the Festival Management Committee recognized as a major international event. It’s the largest cultural festival of its kind in North America. Carnival is a celebrated phenomenon in the great, multi-cultural city of Toronto. People travel from all over the world to see it come alive as the city explodes with the fun-filled rhythms and melodies of Calypso, Soca, Reggae, Chutney, Steel Pan and Brass Bands.

2017 Under the Stars: Movies in the Park, a free outdoor summer screening hosted by Regent Park Film Festival every Wednesday from July 12 to Aug. 16. at Regent Park (the Big Park), 620 Dundas St. E., Toronto. 

Blackhurst Galley Exhibition: “The Art of Carnival,” July 13-Aug. 9, first annual art exhibition presented by the Festival Management Committee of Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival, celebrating 50 years of carnival in the City of Toronto. It features artists: Kenrick Ayow, Rosslyn Berot-Burns, Daryl Chang, Georgia Fullerton, Ian P. Grant and Jennylynd James at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, 777 Bathurst St.(Bathurst and Bloor).

The 4th annual Underground Freedom Train in 2016 at Downsview subway station (newly renamed Sheppard West station)

 A Different Booklist presents 2017 Emancipation Day – the 5th annual Underground Freedom Train – on July 31. Gather at 10:45 pm at Union Station ticket booth and travel to Sheppard West Station (formerly Downsview Station) to welcome in Emancipation Day, August 1. Call 416-538-0889.

PRiDE JA 2017 happens from Aug. 1-7 in Kingston, Jamaica.  Photo contributed

#PRiDEJA, Aug. 1-7. in Kingston, Jamaica. LGBTQ Jamaicans are inviting Canadians to attend “ #PRiDEJA2017 -- Celebrating LGBT Life & Culture in Jamaica, the Caribbean and the Diaspora.”

Organized by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), a human rights organization founded in 1998, the week includes an international conference, a concert, a community bonfire in rural Jamaica, and an all-inclusive breakfast party, among other events.

To find out more about this year’s celebration, check out #PRiDEJA2017, @EqualityJA on Twitter and Instagram, and @PrideJAMagazine on Twitter and Instagram.

Motivational speaker, Sandra Whiting, will join Grace Lyons, Roger Gibbs and Ronald Taylor at Island Soul to share stories about coming to Canada.   Photo contributed

Island Soul, Aug. 4-7, at the Harbourfront Centre. On Aug. 5, 3-4pm “Stories of Coming to Canada” featuring Sandra Whiting, Grace Lyons, Roger Gibbs and Ronald Taylor at the Boulevard Tent, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto.

Jamaican Canadian Association will hold its Jamaica 55 Independence Gala under the patronage of the High Commissioner for Jamaica to Canada, Janice Miller, on Saturday, Aug. 5, 6:30 p.m. at 995 Arrow Rd., Toronto. Keynote speaker: Justice Donald McLeod, Ontario Court of Justice. Call 416-746-5772.

Justice Donald McLeod of the Ontario Court of Justice will be the keynote speaker at the Jamaica Independence Gala on Aug. 5 in Toronto.  Photo contributed

 The Consulate General of Jamaica in partnership with the Jamaican Canadian Association presents Jamaica’s 55th anniversary of Independence Flag Raising Ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 6, 12:30 p.m. at The Podium Roof, Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen St. W. A reception follows at the Council Chambers-Members Lounge.

This will be followed by the Independence Church Service at 3pm at Revivaltime Tabernacle, 4340 Dufferin ST., Toronto. RSVP at

Blackness Yes! presents Blockobana- Black August featuring Osunlade on Sunday, Aug. 6, 12:00-11:00 p.m. in Regent Park.

Jambana One World Festival will be held on Aug. 6&7 at Markham Fairgrounds, 10801 McCowan Rd., Markham. 1pm-9:30pm featuring Assassin, Half Pint, Wayne Wonder, Culture, Josey Wales, Exco Levi, Nana McLean, Ronnie McIntosh and Moses Revolution, Marvia Providence, and more. 

The Jamaican Canadian Association has organized a bus trip to Ottawa on Aug. 7 toOttawa meets the world – Jamaica” an event to mark the 55th anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Janice Miller, Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, will host a reception that evening.
$70 per person. Departure from the JCA at 7am, departure from Ottawa at 7pm, approximate arrival time at the JCA – midnight. Only 55 seats on a first come first served basis. Contact Michelle Dolly at or at 416-9979872

The consul general of Jamaica, Lloyd Wilks, invites you to an exhibition by artist, Cheery Stewart Josephs, Aug. 9-11 at the Consulate General of Jamaica, 303 Eglinton Ave. East, Toronto. Opening reception: Aug. 9, 6:30-9:30pm. Call 416-598-2064

Montreal Pride presents the first-ever Canada Pride from Aug. 10-20 as a nation-wide celebration of Canada's LGBTQ movement "reaffirming the position of Montreal and of Canada as leaders in LGBTQ human rights. Fierte Canada Pride, the Canada Pride Conference, will be held from Aug. 15-17.

27th annual Harriet Tubman Games, Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Esther Shriner Stadium, 5720 Bathurst St., North York. Contact: 416-316-3419
Jerkfest, Thursday, Aug. 10 to Sunday, Aug. 13 starring Freddie Jackson, Brian McKnight, Ikaya, Pinchers and Maxi Priest at Centennial Park, Etobicoke.

Scarborough Community Multicultural Festival, Aug. 11-13, 10am-10pm, at Scarborough Civic Centre. Call 647-343-0821.

Sesquicentennial Cultural Festival for the Latin, African, West Indian & Caribbean Community all day Saturday, Aug. 12, 11:00 a.m. at the Toronto Plaza Hotel, 1677 Wilson Ave., Toronto. The Jane Finch Concerned Citizens Organization (JFCCO) invites you to the special community event celebrating 50 years of Caribana and honouring the founders. For more information, contact:

Rastafest presents the Canadian Reggae Music Conference on Thursday, Aug. 17, 1-4pm at Toronto Plaza Hotel, 1677 Wilson Ave., and on Friday, Aug. 18, 9am-5pm, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University. Speakers include Lloyd Stanbury and Kabaka Pyramid.

17th annual Rastafest Reggae Festival, Canada’s largest Rastafari festival, in The Village, Aug. 19&20 at the historic Black Creek Pioneer Village's north property, 7060 Jane St., Toronto.

Canadian-Caribbean contingent participates in CARIFESTA XIII in Barbados, Aug. 17-27. The Canadian-Caribbean Arts Network (C-CAN) is a collective of artists and professionals. It is spearheading the first ever Caribbean Diaspora contingent officially invited to participate in CARIFESTA 2017. The festival was founded in 1972.
The dance and theatre participants have started a GoFundMe campaign to help them get to CARIFESTA, and the public are asked to donate to their campaign at:

Canadian National Exhibition, Aug. 18-Sept. 4. On Aug. 23, 7:30-8pm Jay Douglas opens for Marcia Griffiths (7:30-9:30pm) at Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place, Toronto.

Jamaica Day Food and Music Festival, Saturday, Sept. 2 & Sunday, Sept. 3 at Woodbine Mall & Fantasy Fair outdoors, 500 Rexdale Blvd., Etobicoke. Gates open at 11:00 a.m. Infoline: 647-909-3539

CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, Sept. 6-21, at the Royal Cinema, 608 College St., Toronto. This year, CTFF 2017 Legacy series has 14 feature films and 30 short films.

Montego Bay Pride 2017 "Love and Pride in the Bay!" Montego Bay, St. James, Oct. 12-15. Thursday, Oct. 12, 10am-11am: Pride Launch; Thursday, Oct. 12-Sunday, Oct. 15, 6-8pm: LGBTQI Film Festival; Saturday, Oct. 14, 10am-2pm: Social Justice Project. For more information: Register:

The Heritage Singers celebrate their 40th anniversary “Reflections..A Walk Down Memory Lane” on Saturday, Oct. 21, matinee at 2pm, evening show at 7:30pm at Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St., Toronto.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

CaribbeanTales International Film Festival Celebrates Caribbean Legacy

By Neil Armstrong

Celebrating at the media launch of CTFF at the Royal Cinema in Toronto on July 6, 2017 are: left-right -- Haynesley Benn, Barbados consul general; Shakirah Bourne, filmmaker of 'A Caribbean Dream'; John Reid, CEO, Flow/Cable & Wireless; Frances-Anne Solomon, executive director, CTFF; Nicole Brooks, CTFF incubator manager; and Sharon Lewis, director of 'Brown Girl Begins.'   Photo credit: DAYO Media & Communications

Patrons of the 12th annual CaribbeanTales International Film Festival (CTFF) from September 6 to 21 will have an offering of 14 feature films and 30 short films from 18 countries.

Timmia Hearn, outreach and marketing manager, described this year’s programming as amazing, noting that a dozen years is a legacy.

The media launch was held in partnership with the Consulate General of Barbados in Toronto on July 6 at the Royal Cinema in Toronto and featured the Canadian premiere of “A Caribbean Dream.”

Directed by Barbadian Shakirah Bourne and produced by Melissa Simmonds, the film offers a Bajan take on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Haynesley Benn, consul general of Barbados at Toronto, said at its core, “the festival is a great opportunity to learn about the Caribbean, its people and all of the stories that make the region so unique and memorable.”

“As a woman filmmaker it has been so hard to have a voice, as a woman of colour,” said Frances-Anne Solomon, executive director of CTFF, who was proud to be presenting filmmakers, Sharon Lewis and Shakirah Bourne.

There was a special presentation of a trailer and featurette of Lewis’ film that has been 15 years in the making, “Brown Girl Begins,” inspired by Nalo Hopkinson’s award-winning novel, “Brown Girl in the Ring.”

“At 12 years old, CaribeanTales has worked since its inception to create a brand for Caribbean cinema, not divided by country, inclusive of diaspora that brings together our separate and collective legacies, our unique distinctive and authentic stories. The festival provides a platform for us to come together across all of our differences to have a meaningful conversation about who we are as a global community.”

Solomon said her work at the BBC in the UK inspired her to seek “to create, produce, market and sell our stories to a rapt audience.”

“Our stories are critical to our survival,” she said.

John Reid, CEO of FLOW, lead sponsor of the film festival said it is an important partnership for his company.

He noted that the partnership has expanded through the CaribbeanTales Incubator (CTI) and described the making of films as a spectacular industry.

The CTI is a year-round development and production hub for Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora producers that aims to create strong, compelling and sustainable content for the global market.

Its ultimate goal is to increase the pool of world-class indigenous film and television content so as to build the region’s audio-visual capacity.

Nicole Brooks, manager of the CTI, who participated in the third year of the incubator noted that it is celebrating eight years.

There are ten 2017 incubator projects by filmmakers from countries such as Canada, Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Barbados, and Haiti.

The opening gala on Sept. 6 themed “Epic Caribbean Legacy” features the world premiere of “Battledream Chronicles – Series,” the Caribbean Region’s first animated television show with an all-star Pan-Caribbean cast. It is directed by filmmaker, Alain Bidard, of Martinique.

The cast includes Joseph Marcell, best known for his role as Geoffrey in the American sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”; Alison Hinds, queen of soca; Sheldon Shepard of the award-winning 2010 Jamaican drama, “Better Mus’ Come”; and Jamaican multi award-winning actress and icon, Leonie Forbes.

The feature presentation of the night will be “Machel Montano: Journey of a Soca King,” directed by Bart Phillips of Trindad and Tobago.

“Pimento and Hot Pepper – The Mento Story,” a film directed by Rick Elgood will be the feature presentation on Sept. 14.

“Originally, in Jamaican music, there was Mento. It was, not only the name of a musical style and a type of band, but also a song form, a rhythm, and a dance. And yet for a century, Mento music and its performers have hidden in plain sight. This documentary explores the origins of Mento and where it is today,” notes a synopsis of the film in the 2017 CTFF programme guide.

CTFF is produced by CaribbeanTales Inc., a registered Canadian charity that aims to connect people through film.

LGBTQ Refugees Support Group in Toronto to Meet with New Legacy Task Force

By Neil Armstrong

Sebastian Commock of The 519, coordinator of the Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy and Alliance. Photo contributed

A new support group for LGBTQ refugees who have legacy claims – many of whom are from the Caribbean and Africa – is gaining some momentum in its advocacy work.

The Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy and Alliance (#CLRAA) was formed in March of this year. There are approximately 70 people actively involved, but about 150 in total, inclusive of those who live outside of the Greater Toronto Area.

During the week of July 17, the group is to meet with the Head of the two-month-old Legacy Task Force, Gaétan Cousineau, who extended the invitation.
He is the former deputy chairperson of the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) and was the president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse). 

The invitation comes after the CLRAA wrote a letter to Mario Dion, Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), on June 16 inquiring about the recently announced legacy task force. They received a response from Cousineau on June 30 inviting them to a meeting.

“The objectives of this group are: to bring attention to legacy claimants and the issues they face, provide support for the group, and implement a plan of action that will bring an end to the current predicament faced by these individuals,” says Sebastian Commock, a staff member at The 519, a City of Toronto agency committed to the health, happiness and full participation of the LGBTQ community.

Commock says the group has a plan of action and so far it has completed three of the ten actions.

“First, we contacted the Immigration Minister by means of a mailed letter. We received a response and was redirected to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).”

Additionally, they recently started a social media campaign on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The accounts can be found under the name “Canadian Legacy Refugees.”

“The objective of this campaign is to sensitize the community and general public about the issues faced by the legacy claimants, and ultimately get them as allies so that when we start the online petition we will have no issues getting signatures,” says Commock, who is looking forward to a positive outcome of the meeting with the head of the legacy task force.

In April, the IRB announced the formation of the legacy task force which will provide dedicated support to the elimination of its backlog of legacy claims.

The task force has a two-year mandate to complete its work. It began its work on May 8, 2017 and will be funded with existing resources. 

The creation of a dedicated team will enable the IRB to significantly increase the rate at which it can process legacy claims while allowing the RPD to continue to focus on new claims and current inventory, says the IRB’s website. 

The new system caseload is subject to regulated time limits.

On June 20, World Refugee Day, the IRB issued a news release and produced a YouTube video asking refugees who made a claim to the IRB before December 15, 2012 to contact the IRB and update their information on the Intention to Proceed Form as needed. If they had questions, they were urged to contact the Legacy Office  at 1-833-534-2292.

“The IRB recognizes the challenges facing legacy claimants waiting in the backlog for several years that is the reason that we have worked hard to find existing internal resources (in the absence of additional funding) and make it a priority to substantively eliminate the legacy cases within two years,” says the IRB.

Refugee claims referred to the IRB before December 15, 2012– are what the IRB calls "legacy claims.” 

It says although most of these claims were heard before the new refugee determination system took effect on December 15, 2012, there are some claims that have not yet been heard.
Legacy claimants will be contacted at their address on record with the IRB to inquire about their intention to proceed with their claim and to provide the claimant an opportunity to update their information with the IRB. If you wish to be contacted regarding a hearing date now you may do so by completing the Intention to Proceed Form and following the instructions for forwarding it to your region, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, notes the IRB’s website.

The IRB says those who no longer wish to claim refugee protection in Canada may complete a withdrawal notice and follow the instructions for forwarding it to their region, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.

In September 2016, the IRB told the Weekly Gleaner that its capacity to resolve legacy Refugee Protection Division claims had been impacted by a growing intake of new refugee protection claims, which must be scheduled for a hearing within legislated time limits (30, 45 or 60 days from referral)‎.

New referrals increased by 22%, going from 13,200 in 2014-15 to 17,000 in 2015-16.

“RPD legacy claims, which were referred before December 15, 2012, are not subject to legislated time limits and are scheduled as capacity allows. There were just under 5,800 RPD legacy claims as of the end of August 2016,” it said.

“As of September 2015, the RPD was fully staffed for the first time with a total of 94 funded public servant decision-maker positions. In addition, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) was able to reallocate funds internally earlier this year to increase the total number of RPD decision makers to 113. This will permit the hearing of approximately ‎17,500 new refugee protection claims within the legislated time limits,” said Anna Pape, senior communications advisor at the IRB.

She said, however, given the rising intake over the past year and ongoing resource constraints, there is also a pending inventory of new system intake (new referrals, Refugee Appeal Division and Federal Court returns) of about 12,400 cases, of which 7000 are in excess of a healthy rolling inventory.

The IRB initiated a staffing process to create an inventory of public servant RPD decision-makers who can be hired, when resources permit, to deal with both the pending inventory of new system intake (new referrals, Refugee Appeal Division and Federal Court returns) and legacy claims.

“Despite limited capacity and growing new intake, through the introduction of expedited processes and other strategies, in 2015-16, the RPD decided approximately 1,950 legacy claims and 13,440 new intake claims,” Pape said.

She said in 2015-16, more than half of all new system cases decided were finalized within 3 months.

The IRB recognizes the importance of timely processing and appreciates the difficulties this situation can present for legacy claimants, she said.

On July 6, 2017, the Toronto Star reporting on a protest held by some refugee claimants – in a story entitled “‘Forgotten refugees’ say they’re tired of waiting for their cases to be heard” – said the IRB has “dedicated $3 million yearly to address the backlog by hiring more than 20 retired refugee judges to focus on these drawn-out cases, the majority of which were filed in 2011 and 2012, and some even earlier.”

It reported that Pape said legacy claim hearings will start on Sept. 18 and a team of decision-makers will hear between 42 and 53 cases a week.

Last year, several Caribbean and African LGBTQ refugee claimants who have been in Canada since 2011 and 2012 shared their frustration at the long wait time to resolve their situation with the Weekly Gleaner. Many felt that their lives were in limbo.

El-Farouk Khaki, a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer, represents many Caribbean clients who have legacy cases – most are Jamaicans.

About 30-40% of Khaki’s client base is Caribbean and of this, about 50% is Jamaican.

He said the Caribbean cases are usually, almost all of them are either sexual orientation or gender-based, so LGBT people or women fleeing some kind of domestic violence situation.

“Out of Jamaica, it’s mostly sexual orientation. Out of my Jamaican cases, I would say 98-95% are sexual orientation and only 5 or 10% are domestic violence-related,” Khaki said.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has recommended the regularization of legacy claimants.

It recommends that a regulatory class be created for legacy claimants, that legacy claimants be landed if they apply and meet minimum requirements (e.g. they have worked for at least 6 months or have been in some form of education for at least 6 months in Canada), and that applicants for this class not be required to withdraw their claims.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Canadian Singer Robert Ball Sings from His Life Journey

By Neil Armstrong

Singer-songwriter, Robert Ball.            Photo contributed

Singer-songwriter, Robert Ball, knew he always wanted to be an artist – from as far back as coming out of his mother’s womb all he remembered wanting to do was to become a visual artist. It was his passion.

He attended Claude Watson School for the Arts and the arts program at Earl Haig Secondary School, both in Toronto, where he was a visual arts major.

Around age 11 or 12, two significant moments piqued his interest further.

“One, I remember watching Rachelle Ferrell perform on the Grammys a tribute to Patti LaBelle. I said that’s what I want to do. And then also I was singing along and recorded myself to Boyz II Men and Des’ree, and a friend of mine came over and heard my tapes and was just completely in awe. And that’s when something clicked,” says Ball.

At about age 18 during his last year of high school he realized that this is the profession that he should pursue. This was also the time that he got his first paid gig as well.

Ball, who is 36 and the son of a Jamaican mother and an African Canadian father with deep roots in Canada’s black history, has been performing for 18 years.

He recently released his six-track EP “Need” in Toronto and has been promoting it in various media.

His smooth vocals caress the genres of soul, neo-soul, jazz, easy listening but he’s not limited to only those.

“I think organically that’s where I fit, if we have to put a label on it. I love all genres of music. I, as a working singer, sing all genres of music but as an artist that’s where it kind of seems to fit. My voice naturally has a soulful element to it, but I do have jazz sensibilities. And I think in the merging of those is where kind of the new soul or neo-soul has come out of anyway, and so I’ve found myself there.”

Ball says he writes and sings from his heart and his life journey.

“The new single and EP stem from the thrill of meeting someone special for the first time – the love, passion, even heartbreak and eventually flourishing from experience. This project is true to the heart for anyone who has been in love. I’ve taken my time to get it right – it’s been my labour of love,” he says on his website.

Expounding on it being a “labour of love,” – it took three years -- the singer-songwriter says it has been hard, has been a process, and he is passionate about the music.

Now that the EP is out, his love for it has grown and even at times when he was frustrated and wondering about the process, “that love for it and that need to get it out there just kept sitting on me.”

In 2011, he released his debut EP “Robert L.A. Ball” to celebrate his 30th birthday because he had been working for a long time as a singer but didn’t have his own project.

The majority of the songs on his new EP “Need” were written in London, England for a month.

“It was the first time in a long time I just had time, time with myself, and so a lot of emotions were able to come up. I was able to process certain things. And I’m the kind of writer, typically, I get melody, lyric, everything, so I hear it all. Sometimes, I just get the first verse and chords and I have to sit down and kind of work it. Sometimes, I hear from beginning to end. I hear all of the harmonies, all of the background vocals, melody, lyric, bridge course -- the whole thing. And then I sit down with a musician and we kind of hash out the instrumentation behind it.”

He would write in the evenings, which is when he’s best at processing things and being most creative.

Ball works on a cruise ship that provides him a stable, consistent gig for a certain number of months. He is part of the production cast on the main stage with a full orchestra.

“But at the same time, as a freelance singer, you’re always hustling, you’re always trying to find the next opportunity, so you’re always working, you’re always thinking,” he says, noting that he’s always thinking about the next opportunity after the contract aboard the ship ends.

Describing himself as a workaholic, Ball says while in London he was out networking and finding other opportunities.

The production of “Need” was a collaborative project.

He performed on a cruise ship in Scandinavia -- the bulk of the tracks were recorded on the ship, the band is from Jamaica, the single, “Breathe,” was recorded in Toronto; it was mixed and mastered by a producer in Toronto with additional guitar  by a musician in Connecticut. The engineer on the ship was from England.

There is also a music video for the single “Breathe” which was recorded in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, The Bahamas, and Mexico.

On his father’s side, Ball is six generations Black Canadian. His great-great-great grandfather came to Canada through the Underground Railroad and settled in the Windsor-Chatham area of Ontario.

“One of his sons married a British woman, one of his sons [Richard A. Ball] became a prominent minister and was the first minister of the BME [British Methodist Episcopal] in Windsor, who is also I think the first or the most significant pastor of the BME in Toronto, which was recently excavated,” says Ball who along with his father over the last 5-10 years have used available technology to research the family’s history.

His sister’s and brother’s families currently attend the church that their great-great grandfather founded in Windsor.

Years ago, Ball performed at the new building of the BME in Toronto and didn’t put together the links to his family until he mentioned to someone that his surname was Ball and they realized it.

His mother is from Black River, St. Elizabeth and went to high school in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She immigrated to Canada in 1973.

After his “Need” EP project got underway, Ball started recording some jazz songs and was planning to release them. Now, he’s thinking of making it an entire project and getting back into the studio to finish recording it.

“I’ve so much other music that I’ve written and I’m already thinking about which songs I will start recording next, and getting funding towards doing that project.”

He says it won’t be another three to six years wait for another project, he wants to keep the momentum going.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Star, July 6-12, 2017 issue.]

Monday, 3 July 2017

Black CAP and City of Toronto Launch Campaign About Transgender and Non-Binary People of Colour

By Neil Armstrong

The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) and the City of Toronto have launched a public awareness campaign to encourage Torontonians to challenge their perceptions of transgender and non-binary people – specifically trans youth of colour. 

The campaign was created in consultation with Black CAP's Community Advisory Committee (CAC) which is comprised entirely of racialized transgender youth. 

The creative concept starts the public conversation with the most basic fact required to begin to understand trans and non-binary Torontonians – the difference between gender and sex. 

Regarding common misconceptions about trans people, Tatiana Ferguson, project lead for Black CAP and a black trans woman, says people don’t understand that trans is an umbrella term.

“There is this understanding that for most trans people they’re either going to want to identify as men or transition to become men or women, particularly for youth who are more gender fluid or non-binary and who don’t want to be grouped or categorized in those normative ways.”

She says the campaign promotes visibility for trans people of colour because oftentimes trans identities and trans spaces have only been white.

“So we wanted to showcase the fact that there are Black, African, Asian, Indian, and we didn’t have any Two-spirited folks featured as models but we did reach out to Two-spirited people of the First Nations. We wanted to show that trans is a diverse group racially as well.”

In terms of the difference between gender and sex, Ferguson said gender would be defined as an internal sense of self and that is why the photographs in the campaign have “My gender lives here” above the heads of the models.

“It’s really connected to the brain, how people view themselves, and sex would be defined as one’s anatomy. They’re physical characteristics, the genitalia, and gender is different from sex. Gender is really about how people feel about themselves and it’s an internal sense of self. It has a lot to do with how we view ourselves in our brain, our mind and not what our body is composed of – not our anatomy. So that’s why we just put ‘not here’ [in the groin area].”

Mayor John Tory says Toronto continually strives to be a place that provides opportunities and supports the well-being of all its residents.

 "This campaign, which emphasizes that members of the transgender community are part of Toronto, is very timely. The City is committed to developing gender-inclusive services and policies to ensure we serve all of our residents."

Ferguson says in order to understand the needs of trans youth of colour, various aspects of their identities must be taken into consideration. 

"Understanding how race, gender, sex and class interplay and create barriers for trans youth of colour is a fundamental component required to identify and address the needs of trans youth in Toronto." 

She says this is using an intersectional approach and understanding that gender is separate from race, race is separate from sex, and class is pre-defined, she says. 

“For a lot of youth who are people of colour, in terms of systemic barriers, they do experience poverty and homelessness and that impacts the level of harassment, discrimination they may be experiencing if they are living in a shelter or a group house that’s not supportive of their trans identities,” says Ferguson.

She says due to racial inequalities, people of colour, black people experience racism which can also impact how they navigate services throughout the city.

Ferguson says trans would be just one aspect of their identity but “when we start to look at various aspects, in terms of their race, whether they’re living in poverty or in the shelter in those types of support housing units, whether they have a physical, mental or intellectual disability and whether or not they identify as gay, straight, or otherwise, bisexual – all these things can take different tolls so it amplifies the oppression that one may experience, not just based on their gender identity.”

The campaign was launched in the midst of Pride Month so it was definitely the time to talk about LGBTQ issues and in the past, historically, trans issues have not really been mentioned, she said.

“We decided that now is more appropriate because we’re talking about erasure,” she says, noting that it was also topical because of Canada’s 150th birthday and the focus on the impact of colonization on various communities.

Ferguson says colonization has affected the trans community and how people view trans people.
The campaign was timely as well because of the recent passing of Bill C-16 which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

“We want people to understand what gender is, both cis gender – people who identify with their sex assignment at birth, and trans people who do not identify with their sex assignment at birth, are going to be impacted by gender identity with this new legislation. And we thought it would be a most appropriate time to have these dialogues and to raise awareness while celebrating all of these monumental changes.”

Ferguson says this is the first campaign of its type that specifically addresses racialized trans youth during a time when legislation is changing and becoming more supportive of trans identities.

“We’re confident that this campaign will lead to important conversations about gender and sex and how we can reduce the significant barriers that trans youth of colour in our city experience in their homes, schools, workplaces and beyond," said Shannon Ryan, executive director of Black CAP.

The campaign, which features real Torontonian racialized trans youth and uses transit ads and social media, was created by the social impact agency, PUBLIC Inc. 

The goal of the campaign is to educate and encourage respectful and meaningful dialogue about transgender and non-binary individuals. 

It also seeks to empower and motivate trans people to get involved in educating others about trans-specific issues. 

Ferguson is proud of her involvement in the campaign and the participation of an advisory team of eight racialized trans people providing feedback and input “so that our message is more unanimous. 
The way we want to tackle the issue is in solidarity with other trans people and it’s not a singular voice that’s being mentioned.”

“I’m really glad and I’m really happy that the city has decided to take it on, although it could have been done with previous campaigns. Trans people are impacted by homelessness; the City of Toronto did a homelessness campaign. Trans people are also impacted by xenophobia; they’re newcomers who are relocating to Toronto and the anti-Black racism campaign could have had a trans perspective in it, but it was absent. I’m glad that the city has decided to really commit to centering racialized trans voices and also youth, seeing that the youth demographic is so much at risk when it comes to being a vulnerable community,” she said.

“The campaign website provides information and resources to educate Torontonians about non-binary people and encourage residents to recognize the systemic biases that trans people, specifically trans youth of colour, face in their daily life in order to foster more understanding and advocacy amongst the cis gender community. (Cis gender individuals are those whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.),” notes a media release from the City of Toronto.

This is the fourth phase of the City's Toronto for All campaign which has an overall goal of creating a Toronto that says "no" to all forms of discrimination and racism. 

Phase 1 ran in the summer of 2016 and focused on Islamophobia. Phase 2 was launched in the fall of 2016 and addressed anti-Black racism. Phase 3 ran in the spring and addressed the discrimination of homeless men. All campaign phases have successfully encouraged conversations among Toronto residents and media regarding the relevant issues. 

Asked what the response has been like since the campaign was launched on June 19, Ferguson says it has been positive.

“What we have been noticing is that because we’re talking about an intersectional approach to this issue there were critiques on like, why focus on youth, or why people of colour. So, being able to respond to those and really expanding people’s knowledge of trans issues and how it relates to racism, and how it relates to classicism, and oftentimes, how racialized trans people are not being centred, their voices are often unheard, so really addressing those types of critiques but overall the reception has been very positive. There have been a lot of people who are like, ‘it’s about time the city has decided to do a campaign like this, it’s about time the city has decided to really recognize racialized people and try to address issues that impact trans people.’”

There are also upcoming community conversations -- Black CAP will host a ‘T-Love’ exhibition on July 14 at its office and the City of Toronto will host ‘Open Dialogue’ on July 27 at North York Civic Centre.

The ‘Open Dialogue’ is about service providers addressing or bringing to the forefront some of the challenges that they have working with the community as well as providing an opportunity for the community to make recommendations to those service providers. The exhibit is really showcasing some artwork that trans women of colour, particularly African, Black, and Caribbean trans women created during three workshops earlier this month [in June] and providing an opportunity for them to share what their experience of self-love and self-acceptance is, and what it has been like, what were some of the challenges to really live their true selves being impacted by so many barriers,” says Ferguson.

Both events are free and open to the public.